The 2021 campaign for election to two seats on the Bourne Board of Selectmen began with a bang. Incumbent Selectman James L. Potter has accused one of his challengers, Bourne Finance Committee chairwoman Mary Jane Mastrangelo, of a variety of peccadilloes, from Open Meeting Law and ethics violations to disrespecting town officials and bullying town staff.
Mr. Potter’s diatribe came at the start of the selectmen’s remote meeting Tuesday night, March 30. He made his statement during the public comment period of the meeting’s agenda, which meant that Ms. Mastrangelo, who was in attendance, could not respond to the accusations.
In an emailed response to Mr. Potter’s statement, Ms. Mastrangelo said she found “the personal attacks in public comment made by a member of the board of selectmen who is running for reelection to be troubling.”
“There is a process for charter compliance, there is a process for Open Meeting violations and there is a process for ethics violations. None of which is under the jurisdiction of the board of selectmen,” she wrote.
Mr. Potter, who also serves as chairman of the Bourne Board of Sewer Commissioners, started his statement by pointing to deep political divisions on a national scale. There is a need, he said, for “positive energy, kindness,” before he launched into his stream of allegations.
“We have a significant issue with our finance committee chair, and it extends over many years,” he said. “Previous town administration and boards allowed overreach of that chair position, and it has not been addressed.”
Mr. Potter claimed to have received an email from Town Administrator Anthony E. Schiavi stating that the administrator and town staff “have been burdened by requests from the FinCom chair to perform tasks for her.” The administrator’s email suggested that staff felt pressured to stop their tasks and respond right away.
Some of the emails were sent on Saturdays, Mr. Potter said, and demanded immediate staff action.
“This is bullying, and this is a rogue chair,” he said, adding that Mr. Schiavi has called for the charter violations to stop.
Section 7-4 of the Bourne Town Charter focuses on finance committee action. It states, in part, that the finance committee “may request the town administrator to provide necessary information from any town agency and the town administrator shall promptly respond to such requests.”
In addition, the charter states that the town administrator “shall provide staff support to the finance committee in issuing its recommendations on the operating budget and capital improvement program.”
In her emailed response, Ms. Mastrangelo denounced the characterization of Mr. Potter’s charges. She said her communications to town staff note that she has a full-time paid job. Much of the volunteer work she does as chairwoman of the finance committee is done on weekends, and suggestions that she demanded immediate action “are completely false,” she said.
“While I may send an email to staff on a Saturday, I have never demanded an immediate response,” she said.
Mr. Potter also accused Ms. Mastrangelo of overreach as finance committee chairwoman by directly contacting the town’s consultant with Tighe & Bond, a civil engineer and environmental solutions firm. Ms. Mastrangelo tasked the consultant with things that the sewer commissioners did not approve, Mr. Potter said.
By doing so, he said, Ms. Mastrangelo “had unethically put herself outside the charter.” When he wrote her to advise of the charter overreach, he said, she responded that he did not have the authority to write her on the issue.
“As chair and as contact to our consultant, I most certainly did,” he said.
Mr. Potter went on to criticize Ms. Mastrangelo for “laughing and making faces” when Mr. Schiavi spoke to the sewer commissioners about budget adjustments during the board’s meeting on March 23.
He also criticized her because her name was listed on a Cape & Islands Water Protection Board internal email. The email showed the values of funds for each town associated with the agency, he said. Mr. Potter serves as Bourne’s representative to the water protection board.
“This is an independent board,” he said of the water protection board. “It’s outrageous. We’re operating outside of ethics, outside of Open Meeting Law, outside the charter. It cannot be tolerated.”
In her emailed response, Ms. Mastrangelo said she found troubling any suggestion that she, as finance committee chairwoman, or any interested citizen should not be allowed to access information on funds received by the water protection fund. She pointed out that she is on distribution lists for many Cape Cod Commission functions and “appreciate[s] being kept in the loop on what is happening.”
“Public information is public information, and it should be shared with anyone who is interested,” she said.
Mr. Potter ended his statement by calling for the selectmen to hold either a closed-door executive session, or an open meeting, to address the violations with Ms. Mastrangelo. He mentioned the oath of office he has taken to protect the town and said, “It’s not something that I take lightly.”
“In the spirit of what’s best for all, I’m sure we can arrive at a positive resolution,” he said.
The fact that she is running against Mr. Potter in the race for one of two seats up for grabs on the board of selectmen was not lost on Ms. Mastrangelo.
“I leave it to the voters to decide who will listen to residents and businesses,” she said, “who will work for financial stability, and who is the best choice to serve on the board to make Bourne the best that it can be for both residents and businesses.”